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Why welcoming more international students is good for the U of O and Canada

Photo by Jennifer Vo

The federal government is looking to make Canada one of the world’s top destinations for international students. Come 2022, it hopes to have attracted a total of 450,000 international students—that’s twice the number currently enrolled in universities across the country.

This new federal strategy, called the International Education Strategy, could be influencing the University of Ottawa’s own approach regarding international students.

In its strategic plan entitled Vision 2020, the university lists internationalizing its student body as one of its four strategic goals for the next several years. By 2020, it hopes to have doubled the number of international graduate students and to have increased the number of international undergraduate students by 50 per cent. If successful, come 2020 our school will be home to a total of 3,650 international students, representing 9 per cent of the entire student body.

Legitimate concerns have been raised regarding these programs, such as their impact of academic competition and classroom size. But in the long run they will be far more beneficial than detrimental to students across the country.

For starters, they will have a huge economic and financial impact. Including tuition fees, accommodations and other expenses, the new international students are expected to contribute over $16.1 billion to the Canadian economy, which in turn will help create approximately 86,500 new jobs.

When you consider that international students in Canada pay on average $19,514 in annual tuition fees — three times more than domestic students—it is fair to assume that the U of O also had money in mind while planning Vision 2020. A larger budget could help finance more research or provide more resources and programs for students if used appropriately.

But the benefits are far more than simply about money. Unfortunately, in promoting the International Education Strategy at the federal level, the government has placed too much emphasis on its economic value, while largely overlooking the many other advantages of the program.

For instance, more international students would increase the cultural diversity on our campuses. This is one the most salient points in favour of bringing in more students from overseas.

As mentioned in Vision 2020, it will allow us to play a leading role in the globalization of university teaching and research and give us the opportunity to form international partnerships. Never has it been more important for students to understand the world around them and to adapt to the new realities of work and collaboration in a global context.

International students also bring with them new approaches, perspectives and ideas, all of which are vital to the health of the university. If universities have one purpose, is it not to put us in contact with as many ideas and perspectives as possible?  More intellectual and cultural diversity on campus will promote collaboration, awareness and tolerance of those around us.

In this sense, the presence of international students does not only complement and add to the university experience — it is essential to it. For those who believe in the principles of higher education, an increase in international students can only mean a better university experience for all.